Startup Weekend team develops tool for nonprofits

By Danielle Rebel

What would you be willing to give up in order to help others?

That’s the question the winning team at Fargo’s Startup Weekend asked and answered. In just a few short days, the team turned a question into a functioning, reliable nonprofit fundraising platform: GIVV App. 

MSUM alumnus Jordan Maahs ’15 (communication studies) pitched an idea at Startup Weekend that aimed to help solve problems he witnessed in his daily work at Unseen.

“There are more people willing to help than nonprofits know how to engage. And if we can create the right tools we can do a lot of good. We can do it by engaging people in the ways people want to give,” Maahs said.

After Maahs pitched his idea, MSUM senior Ryan Bennek (advertising), alumna McCal Joy Johnson ’13 (art education), Skyler Stoner, Adam Baumgartner, and McKenzy Diehl joined the team.

“Nonprofits have always interested me,” Bennek said. “I just really like the idea of a group of people giving back and not expecting much in return. And Jordan’s was the first idea that really cemented that whole idea of giving.”

A few hours into the weekend, Maahs initial idea had morphed into something everyone on the team was ready to support whole-heartedly.

“People are always trying to give something up: pizza, eating out, getting coffee in the morning. What if we kind of incentivized that? What if we put real dollars that you would be spending on this thing you wanted to give up and what if we donated that to charity?” Bennek said.

The team wanted to focus on the personal connections people can make by choosing to use their money elsewhere.

“You can decide, ‘I’d be willing to give up a coffee a couple times over this next week,’ and then that money can go directly to an organization that’s helping provide education to girls in Pakistan,” Maahs explained. “So it’s really great to be able to make the direct connection between what you’re willing to do and what it’s going to do for someone else.”

In order to determine whether or not there was a potential need for the app, Maahs contacted his boss at Unseen to see if the nonprofit would be interested in partnering with GIVV App. The app launched around 10 a.m. the Sunday of Startup Weekend, and by the time the team presented that evening, $350 had already been donated to Unseen through GIVV App.

“Since then we’ve had five other nonprofits who have started their own GIVV App campaigns here in town, but also globally,” Maahs said. “Groups working in Pakistan and groups working with dogs, a local theater program, kind of all over the place. I think it really speaks to the flexibility of the tool to be used by a variety of different people.”

These partnerships are key to helping GIVV App and potential donations grow.

“Instead of us trying to find each individual person who might be interested in using the app, we connect with nonprofits that already have a network of people they’re connected to, and give it to them as a tool to share with the people they know,” Maahs explained.

Bennek and Maahs both credit team chemistry for their success at Startup Weekend.

“One of the easiest ways to fail during Startup Weekend, and probably in life, is getting too distracted by all the possibilities. We realized if we wanted to be successful we had to focus in on one thing and try to accomplish it,” Maahs said.

The group didn’t intend to leave the weekend with continued work, but found themselves facing the possibility after receiving such a positive response.

“Hopefully we can find some partners that can help take what we have now and take it to the next level,” Maahs said. “In order to move forward we’ll need somebody who sees value in what’s been built so far and is willing to invest.”

Whether or not the team continues work on the product, it will still serve as a beneficial tool for nonprofits.

“We were developing this as a product to help nonprofits. And if that means developing the product a little bit further and then just giving it away to other nonprofits, I think that would be success in my book,” Bennek said.

You can check out GIVV App at http://givvapp.org/.

Since the time of these interviews, GIVV App has gained additional partners. To read more about Givv App’s success, see Angie Wieck’s article on inforum.com.